Monday, December 14, 2009

Interview with Jacqueline Kelly, author of The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

KN: Grandfather’s library feels so real that as a reader, I feel as if I’m there. How did you create this incredible setting?

JK: What an interesting question, I haven't been asked that before. I filled his library with all sorts of weird and wonderful things that would have enchanted me as a child. I still find objects like that irresistible. The bottled beast comes from seeing an actual sample that Darwin had collected in a museum in Cambridge, England. The specimen was fairly distorted by that time, but what really thrilled me was a small hand-written tag that Darwin had affixed to the bottle. Seeing his own hand writing made it really come alive for me.

KN: Callie’s voice is exquisite. What did you do to make sure she sounded like a girl who lived in 1899, not 2009?

JK: Since writing a hundred years ago was more formal, I figured that speech had to be more formal then as well. I tried to give her an educated, formal sound for a girl of her age. No slang, and no modern words. I'm glad you think I succeeded.

KN: I learned about Texas ’s insects, plants and animals from reading the entries in Callie’s naturalist notebook? Do you keep a naturalist notebook, and if you do, for how long have you done so?

JK: I myself keep a writing notebook, not a naturalist notebook. But a lot of the story came from me sitting quietly on a cushion on the front porch early in the morning and just waiting for the birds and animals to come visit. The biggest shock was when a tiny mole came around the corner of the house one day, only about four feet away. I'd never seen a mole before, and we just looked at each other for a moment (or, rather, it squinted at me since they have terrible eyesight) before it scuttled away.

KN: Callie and grandfather’s relationship is rich and detailed. Were you close to a grandparent at Callie’s age?

JK: One of my grandfather's died before I was born, and I grew up on the other side of the world from my other grandfather, only seeing him a handful of times as a teen and adult. Since I essentially had no grandfather in my life, I had to create the one that I wanted.

KN: Is there anything else that you would like to share with us?

JK: I'm truly delighted by the response the book has received. It's been a great treat and a pleasure to meet fans of my girl!

KN: Thanks for the interview. If you want to check out a curriculum guide for this book click on

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Day-Glo Brothers

By Chris Barton
Publisher: Charlesbridge
ISBN 978-1-57091-673-1

FROM THE FLAP: An illuminating tale. Why did you pick up this book? Did it have something to do with the eye-popping colors on the cover?

You can thank Bob and Joe Switzer for those shocking greens, blazing oranges, and screaming yellows. The brothers invented a whole new kind of color, one that glowed with an extra-special intensity. It took them years of experimenting, but their efforts paid off brilliantly. Day-Glo colors helped win a war, save people’s lives, and brighten everyday life, including this book.

BIOLUMINESCENCE IN NATURE (Naturalist, Verbal/Linguistic)

The Switzer brothers developed fluorescent paints, but glow-in-the-dark sea animals, plants, and insects have been around much longer than Day-Glo paints. Ask students to write a paragraph about a fluorescent plant or animal. The first two links below have information for kids and the last one is a teacher’s guide about bioluminescent organisms.


Gather up different types of white fabric swatches such as silk, cotton, polyester, nylon, and satin. As a class, predict which fabric will best take the dye. Make sure that each group of student dyes the fabric for the same amount of time, otherwise you’ll have more than one variable. Give each group of students a bucket, dye and a fabric swatch. After the swatches dry, hang them up from lightest to darkest. Which fabric worked best?

POP ART (Visual/Spatial)

Andy Warhol used Day-Glo paints. Ask students to pick a famous cultural object or person and create a symmetrical portrayal of their chosen object or person. Students can fold their papers into halves, thirds, or fourths to demarcate each block of space. After students have drawn their symmetrical objects, give them Day-Glo paint for the finishing touches. Warhol’s Campbell Soup Cans, Marilyn Monroe, and Four Monkeys illustrate symmetry.

SWITZER BROTHER TIMELINES (Visual/Spatial, Logical/Mathematical)

Use the dates and facts in the book to create a Switzer Brother Timeline. This is a fun and easy way to summarize the information in the book.

THE CAN-CAN DANCE (Bodily/Kinesthetic, Interpersonal)

A theater bought Day-Glo costumes that made their chorus girls look like dancing skeletons. Break the class into groups of five or six and ask them to do the Can-Can dance. Start off by asking each group to do it for a minute. Then, increase the time in one minute intervals to see which group can keep up the aerobic activity for the longest amount of time.

Book Buddies:

-Andy Warhol by Mike Venezia
-Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women- Inventors by Glenn Murphy
-So You Want To Be An Inventor? By Judith St. George
-Stopping Bullets with a Thread: Stephanie Kwolek and Her Incredible Invention (Genius at Work! Great Inventor Biographies) by Edwin Brit Wyckoff
-TV’s Forgotten Hero: The Story of Philo Farnsworth (Trailblazer Biographies) by Stephanie Sammartino McPherson

Monday, December 7, 2009

Edublog Awards

Behind the Books: Edublog Awards

Tomorrow is the deadline for this year’s Edublog Awards -- nominations, so while I still have time, here are my choices. Each of my picks features sites that can enrich your classroom. Enjoy!

Best Individual Blog: Celebrate Science
Melissa Stewart is the award winning author of more than 100 non-fiction books for children, and her posts are perfect for science centers and any teacher who is trying to implement naturalist notebooks into their weekly routine. For science centers, check out her Fun Friday posts which include science-based word searches, gross and goofy body facts, Readers Theater scripts, and contests. For naturalist notebooks, have your students read her Monday posts about the maple tree in her yard. It’s full of fascinating scientific information, and will help your students learn to be more observant of the natural world around them.

Best Group Blog: I.N.K. (Interesting Nonfiction for Kids) If you’re looking for books for your elementary science and social studies centers, this is the blog to check out. Twenty-two award-winning children’s non-fiction authors post about all aspects of their writing and research. Make sure to click on the Ink Think Tank link. The Ink Think Tank connects books from each of the authors to curriculum standards. This is an invaluable source of information for educators.

Best New Blog: Celebrate Science
You don’t want to miss out on this one! Check out the explanation above to see how this blog will help you celebrate science in your classroom.

Best Teacher Blog: Kate’s Book Blog
Kate Messner is a middle school English teacher and the author of three fantastic books (with more on the way). She does an amazing job of integrating technology and education to enrich her creative writing courses. If you’d like to find out how to use Skype to bring authors into your classroom, or want tips on how to help students develop setting, character, and conflicts in their work, browse Ms. Messner’s site.

Next year I hope to be able to nominate an elementary math blog! If you find a great one, let me know. In the meantime, here's a great math website with lots of great games to enrich your classroom:

Sunday, December 6, 2009


By Sebastian Meschenmoser
Publisher: Kane Miller
ISBN 978-1-935279-01-4

FROM THE FLAP: Deer has told squirrel how wonderful snow is, so Squirrel sits outside and waits for winter. He waits, and he waits, and he waits. It’s boring.

All his not-so-patient waiting has woken Hedgehog, who decides he’d like to see it snow too. They wait, and they wait, and they wait. And it’s still boring, even when there are two of you. Maybe singing will help to pass the time?

All the not-so-patient waiting and the not-so-quiet singing has woken Bear. He’ll have to help Squirrel and Hedgehog find the snow if he wants to get any sleep this winter. Deer said it was white and wet and cold and soft. How hard could it be to find something like that?

Well, maybe harder than he thinks.

GARBAGE DAY (Naturalist)

Give the kids plastic, disposable gloves and garbage bags, and take them for a walk outside. Have them pick up any litter or garbage they see. Not only does it make their immediate surroundings cleaner, but it keeps the trash from traveling elsewhere. Read Tracking Trash by Loree Griffin Burns for more information.

SNOWMEN RETELLINGS (Verbal/Linguistic)

Have each child cut out two symmetrical snowmen. Then, ask them to put glue on one vertical half of the snowman and stick the other snowman on top. Fold back the two halves without glue. The snowman should have three sides and be able to stand up on its own. On one side have students write about the beginning of the story, on the next side have students write about the middle of the story, and on the last side have students write about the end of the story.

SNOW LANDSCAPES (Visual/Spatial)

Give students an 8x11 piece of black or blue construction paper and a piece of white chalk. Have them draw snowdrifts on the bottom of the paper. Then, give them sheets of white paper to tear, clear beads, snippets of white ribbon, and foam snowflakes for the falling snow.

SNOW SONGS (Musical)

Squirrel sings to pass the time. Welcome winter with these snow songs available at and

SQUIRREL TAG (Bodily Kinesthetic)

Each child starts off as a squirrel. Have two squirrels be it. When they tag a student, the child becomes a tree, a base for the other squirrels that have yet to be tagged. Time how long it takes for the pair of squirrels to tag ten students and repeat.


-Snow by Uri Shulevitz
-Snowball by Nina Crews
-Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin
-Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam and the Science of Ocean Motion by Loree Griffin Burns
-Under the Snow by Melissa Stewart

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

By Jacqueline Kelly
Publisher: Holt
ISBN-13: 978-0-8050-8841-0

FROM THE FLAP: The summer of 1899 is hot in Calpurnia’s sleepy Texas town,and there aren’t a lot of good ways to stay cool. Her mother has a new wind machine from town, but Callie might just have to resort to stealthily cutting off her hair, one sneaky inch at a time. She also spends a lot of time at the river with her notoriously cantankerous grandfather, an avid naturalist. It turns out that every drop of river water is teeming with life, all you have to do is look through a microscope.

As Callie explores the natural world around her, she develops a close relationship with her grandfather, navigates the dangers of living with six brothers, and learns just what it means to be a girl at the turn of the century.

Debut author Jacqueline Kelly deftly brings Callie and her family to life, capturing an unusual year with unique sensitivity and wit.

BIRD FEEDERS (Visual/Spatial)

Callie feeds the birds in her yard. Have students make bird feeders. If you want a simple fast activity, give the students string and donut-shaped cereal. Make a cereal necklace and hang outside for the birds. For a more complex activity, use milk or juice cartons. Here’s a good link to check out for more detailed information:

CLASS AWARD (Interpersonal)

Make a class award that will be passed on from one student to another each week just like Callie’s family had a FENTRESS FIREFLY PRIZE. The award could be for using a “wow” word in writing, an impressive open response math explanation, or any concept you’re trying to teach.

EGG TOSS (Bodily Kinesthetic)

Callie’s grandfather doesn’t want to damage specimens when he collects them. Divide the class into teams of four for a relay race. Each team member has to carry an egg on a spoon to the finish line and back without the egg breaking.

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (Verbal/Linguistic)

When Callie writes to the local newspaper, not only does the newspaper write back, but they begin to include the temperature in the shade. Read your local paper and write a letter to them praising one of their articles or suggest a change that would improve the paper.


Collect samples from different water sources: lake, pond, river, marsh, swamp or ocean and look at each underneath a microscope. Record your observations. Using the results you’ve found, design a science experiment and use the scientific method to test your hypothesis.

NATURALIST NOTEBOOKS (Visual/Spatial and Naturalist)

Once a week take the class outside to sketch something in their natural environments. If you’re in a rural area, opportunities abound, but even in an urban area there are different options. Check out this blog post for photos and observations of Maple trees. Don't forget about the sky and the different types of clouds, too.


-Darwin and Evolution for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities by Kristan Lawson
-Fire in the Hole by Mary Cronk Farrell
-How Do You Know It’s True?: Discovering the Difference Between Science and Superstition by Hyman Ruchlis
-Keeper of the Doves by Betsy Byars
-My Name is America: The Journal of Fin Reardon A Newsie by Susan Bartoletti

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Interview with The Circus Ship author and illustrator, Chris Van Dusen

KN: Why did you choose to write The Circus Ship in rhyme?

Chris Van Dusen: I wrote The Circus Ship in rhyme because I wanted to the tone to be light-hearted. As you know, the story is loosely based on a terribly tragic event, so to distance my story even more from it's horrible past, I thought rhyme would be a good choice. I was also thinking about sea shanties and other historic events that are told in long rhyming poems, and I hoped to capture a little of that feeling, too.

KN: Why did you decide to make Tiger the hero of the story?

Chris Van Dusen: The tiger's rescue, to me, is the link that brings the whole story together. Not only does he save the day, but this is the first time the people see that these animals are special. I chose the tiger because his circus talent is jumping through fire. He HAD to be the one to rescue little Emma Rose!

KN: You did a great job camouflaging the animals. Were some of the animals harder to hide than others?

Chris Van Dusen: It wasn't too hard finding ways to hide the animals, in fact it was really fun. I wanted to mix it up though. In other words, I didn't want all the animals dressed as people. I also wanted to make some animals really obvious like the gorilla in the foreground, and some animals really hard to find, like the alligator and the leopard. Have you found those two yet? If you have, congratulations!

KN: Those two animals were really fun to find! I read you live in a little town in Maine. Have the residents of your town ever worked together to solve a problem like the animals and residents in The Circus Ship?

Chris Van Dusen: Fortunately, our town has not been overrun by exotic animals! I live in a beautiful, small, coastal Maine town, and I feel very lucky to live here, but I can't think of a specific incident when we've had to band together to solve a big problem. Probably the closest thing to that is when we worked hard to save a wetland area from being filled to build condominiums. We succeeded, by the way. It's now a wildlife preserve.

KN: Our small town succeeded in preserving land from a developer, too. It feels great to work together. Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?

Chris Van Dusen: I'd just like to add that The Circus Ship is different from my other books in a number of ways. While it's still a rhyming picture book, this is the first time I've attempted an historic story. It was fun to do research for the book. It's also the first time I've added a villain to one of my stories, which was a lot of fun. There's so much you can do with a bad guy!

Thanks again, Kate.

KN: Thank you, Chris.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


By Chris Van Dusen
Publisher: Candlewick Press
ISBN 978-0-7636-3090-4

FROM THE FLAP: When a circus ship runs aground off the coast of Maine, the circus animals must stagger to the shore of a small island. At first the townspeople view them with suspicion, but it’s not long before locals and animals are sharing the island in harmony.

When the greedy circus owner returns, the townsfolk and the circus refugees come up with a delightfully original way to outsmart the bloated blowhard, exacting hilarious revenge in the process.

With rhymed text and brilliantly caricatured illustrations that evoke the early nineteenth century, Chris Van Dusen has crafted a stunning picture book about the unique bonds of friendship and community.

THEY CAME IN TWOS (Verbal/Linguistic)

Take twelve pairs of rhyming words from the text. Write each word on an index card. Pass out a card to each student. Say a rhyming word from the same family and ask the students who have words from that same family to come to the front of the room. As a class brainstorm as many words as possible that rhyme with those words.


As a class, talk about how each animal is hidden by the townspeople. Brainstorm different ways each animal could camouflage itself in varying realistic and fantastic environments. Have each student choose an animal and draw a picture of it camouflaged in a realistic or fantastic setting.


There are some great circus songs you can sing with your class at All of the lyrics are set to well known tunes such as Mary Had a Little Lamb or I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.


Circuses usually showcase tightrope walkers. Put a balance beam or a two by four in the middle of the class rug. Have a few students pretend to be hungry crocodiles swimming around the rug waiting to gobble up any students who fall off the tightrope into the water.


This book has a distinct beginning, middle and end and has a large list of characters. So, it’s great for Reader’s Theater. Talk about the beginning when the boat crashes, the middle when the animals cause havoc and the Tiger saves Emma Rose, and the end when the townspeople and the animals work together to trick the circus owner. Give students the roles of the animals, the circus owner, the captain, Emma Rose, Little Red and the townspeople and have them reenact the book. Don't forget to have the animals camouflage themselves in the classroom!


-Circus by Lois Ehlert
-If I Ran The Circus by Dr. Seuss
-Last Night I Dreamed a Circus by Maya Gottfried
-Miss Bindergarten Plans a Circus with Kindergarten by Joseph Slate
-Twenty-One Elephants and Still Standing By April Jones Prince

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Interview with The Year the Swallows Came Early Author, Kathryn Fitzmaurice

KN: Did you use any organizational tools such as an outline or graphic organizers before you started writing Groovy's story?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: Typically, I am a very organized person who writes a lot of lists and outlines. But with this story, I did not use either. I knew what the beginning and ending would be, but not the middle. I just wrote the story as it came to me, which is probably why it took three years to complete. I find if I do use outlines, though, my writing goes more quickly and is more organized.

KN: The Year the Swallows Came Early has beautiful metaphors, many of which relate to food. Did you have a list of food metaphors before you created Groovy, or did the metaphors stem from Groovy's character?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: Thank you for this very nice compliment. I did not have any lists of food metaphors as I wrote. I suppose they came as I was writing the story. I’m not a very good cook, so luckily, with Groovy only being eleven; I didn’t have to think up elaborate things.

KN: Migration is a theme in your book. Did the migration of swallows inspire you to think of how people relocate, or did you think about the mobility of people first?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: The migration of the swallows has always fascinated me. How do they know the exact place to come back to? How do they arrive the same day each year? I like to think that no matter what else is going on around us, we can always count on the swallows to be here each spring. It’s one thing that never changes, almost like a promise that can’t be broken. I knew I wanted to put that in the book, and when Frankie needed something to believe in, it was the swallows’ return.

KN: Have you seen the swallows return home to San Juan Capistrano in the spring?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: I go every year to the area around the mission in San Juan Capistrano to see the swallows return. We call it St. Joseph’s day. Unfortunately, because of the construction that has occurred since the mission was built and all the people who now live around there, including a big freeway, the swallows have scattered to the surrounding areas, but we can still see a few each year. A lot of them go to the undersides of the canal bridges lately because it’s much more quiet and away from the people.

KN: Is there anything else you would like to tell us?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: Thank you for interviewing me, and for reading the book.

KN: It's been a pleasure.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Year the Swallows Came Early

By Kathryn Fitzmaurice
Publisher: THE BOWEN PRESS An Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers
ISBN: 978-0-06-162497-1

FROM THE FLAP: Eleanor “Groovy” Robinson loves cooking and plans to go to culinary school just as soon as she’s old enough. But even Groovy’s thoughtfully planned menus won’t fix the things that start to go wrong the year she turns eleven. Suddenly, her father is in jail, her best friend’s long-absent mother reappears, and the swallows that make their annual migration to her hometown arrive surprisingly early.

As Groovy begins to expect the unexpected, she learns about the importance of forgiveness and starts to understand the complex stories of the people around her. And, on a night where nothing goes as planned, she is amazed to discover that even a really big shake-up can’t get in the way of a family that needs to come together.

Kathryn Fitzamurice’s tender debut novel is as full of promise as the swallows that return home to San Juan Capistrano every spring.

BIRD REPORTS (Naturalist and Verbal/Linguistic)

Research a bird and describe its physical traits and habitat. Be sure to include information about whether or not the bird migrates.


Swallows and people “migrate” in this book. Groovy’s dad migrates to and from jail, an adult friend migrates to and from and island, and Groovy’s best friend’s mother migrates to and from Mexico. With a partner, ask students to research charitable organizations that help displaced people or animals. As a class, take a vote and narrow the organizations down to three possibilities. Using Skype, interview the presidents of these organizations on the phone to decide which organization is worthy of a donation from the class.

FOODOLOGY (Verbal/Linguistic)

Ms. Fitzmaurice peppers her narrative with beautiful metaphors comparing Groovy’s life to food. On the first page, Groovy compares her house to a chocolate-covered coconut candy, and on the last page, Groovy compares the upcoming year to a chocolate-covered caramel. Write an essay comparing your life to a candy, or make a Foodology list to describe important events in your life just as Groovy did on page 255 of the novel.

MIGRATION GRAPHS (Logical/Mathematical and Visual/Spatial)

After researching a specific bird, have students list their bird’s name and the distance it migrates on the board. Give each student a piece of graph paper and have them graph the miles each bird migrates. Calculate the mean, median, and range of the selected birds’ migration.


Create a diorama of one of the settings in the book such as Groovy’s house, Luis’s store, the jetty, the pier, or the hair salon.


-Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Munoz Ryan
-Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath
-Faith, Hope, and Ivy June by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
-My Life in Pink and Green by Lisa Greenwald
-The Cupcake Queen by Heather Hepler

Monday, November 9, 2009


By Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel
Publisher: Harcourt, Inc.
ISBN 0-15-202298-8

FROM THE FLAP: Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle, The cow jumped over the moon; The little dog laughed to see such sport, And the dish ran away with the spoon.

Every night the rhyme gets read. Every night Dish and Spoon run away. And every night they return, until tonight!

Where can Dish and Spoon be? The rhyme can’t go on without them, so Cat, Cow, and Dog set out to search for their missing friends. But where to start? Should they go north? East? Northeast? They’ll just have to read Fork’s map, ask directions, and try not to get lost in Little Boy Blue’s haystack or under Miss Muffet’s Tuffet or in the Big Bad Wolf’s Kitchen…

“Fee, Fi, Fo…”

Oh no. Could that be the giant?


Cut out a large moon from yellow bulletin board, tape it to the rug, and have students jump over it one-by-one. Have students recite And the Dish ran away with the Spoon rhyme saying each child’s name instead of Cow when he or she jumps over the moon. Take a picture of each child jumping over the moon for the Who Jumped Over the Moon? activity below.

LOST AND FOUND (Intrapersonal and Visual/Spatial)

Cat is very upset when he realizes Dish and Spoon are gone and is very relieved when he finds them. Draw a picture of how you felt when you lost something and how you felt when you found it. Write a sentence describing your picture.


Give each student a paper plate(Dish) that has been cut up into six pieces. Have them repair Dish. Then, around the edge of the paper plate, have them use marker and create a striped border in an A, B, A pattern.

WHO JUMPED OVER THE MOON? (Verbal/Linguistic)

Using the pictures from Jumping over the Moon, create a class book. Each page will feature one picture of a student jumping over the moon, and the rhyme minus the word cow. Put a blank line where the word cow would go and have the pictured student write in his or her name. Take turns sending the book home in a bag with each child.


Instead of playing Doggy, Doggy Where’s your Bone, play Who Ran Away with the Spoon. Change the last line of And the Dish Ran Away with the Spoon to And someone ran away with the spoon. Have one student go into the hallway while one student hides the spoon. Have the class chant the rhyme when they’re ready to have the student come guess who ran away with the spoon.

Book Buddies:

-Little Miss Muffet Counts to Ten by Emma Chichester Clark
-Mother Goose Numbers on the Loose by Leo and Diane Dillon
-The Neighborhood Mother Goose by Nina Crews
-You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You: Very short Mother Goose Tales to Read Together by Mary Ann Hoberman

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Giant of Seville by Dan Andreasen

By: Dan Andreasen
Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers
ISBN 13: 978-0-8109-0988-5

FROM THE FLAP: Seville, Ohio is a sleepy town. Nothing exciting ever happens, that is until Captain Martin Van Buren Bates arrives. Standing seven feet eleven and a half inches, Captain Bates is a giant who has toured around the world in the circus. In search of a quiet home for himself and his wife (who is also a giant), Captain Bates decides to get off the train in Seville, although he fears that he will be too big for the little town. But Seville is full of surprises, and the giant is about to learn that the only thing that matters is the size of one’s heart.

A “tall” tale based on the true story of a real-life circus giant, The Giant of Seville is a heartwarming story of acceptance, and also includes an author’s note on the life of Captain Bates and his wife, Anna Bates, Seville’s most famous residents.

CLASS HEIGHTS (Logical/Mathematical)

Pair students and have them measure one another’s heights. Make a graph of the students’ heights. Ask each one of them to estimate approximately how many of them would it take to reach the height of the giants in the book.

GIANT HEARTS (Intrapersonal, Interpersonal and Verbal/Linguistic)

The residents of Seville go out of their way to welcome Captain Bates into their community. Ask the students to tell about a time someone did something nice for them or a time when they did something nice for someone else. Then, have them write their incident on a giant heart.

SQUARE DANCING (Rhythmic/Musical and Bodily-Kinesthetic)

Teach the kids to square dance just as the residents of Seville. Use the free downloads from Ez-tracks and the list of definitions from Dosado to help you out.

TALL TALES (Verbal/Linguistic)

Have the students retell the beginning, middle, and end of The Giant Of Seville. Then, give them a graphic organizer to plan the beginning, middle, and end of their own Tall Tale. After that, have them write their own tall tale.

TOP HATS (Visual/Spatial)

Using construction paper and other art supplies, have kids design their own top hats.


-American Tall Tales by Mary Pope Osborne
-Dona Flor: A Tall Tale About a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart by Pat Mora
-The Foot-Stomping Adventures of Clementine Sweet by Kathy Combs, Kitty Griffin and Mike Wohnoutka
-Thunder Rose by Jerdine Nolen
-Whoosh Went the Wind! By Sally Derby

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Interview with The Witch's Guide to Cooking with Children author, Keith McGowan

KN: Fay Holaderry quotes authentic phrases such as, "I'm at the end of my rope." What did you do to craft Fay's voice?

KM: The witch's voice came very naturally to me with no explicit thought of writer's craft. Her sense of humor appeared on the page fully formed, and I laughed, more as a reader of her journal than as the writer of it. I think somehow her wry sarcasm must just be a part of how I was raised; I come from a very sarcastic family.

KN: How did you ensure Sol and Connie were attractive yet imperfect characters?

KM: The fact that we are all imperfect is a major theme of the book. Nobody is perfect in the book. For me, the truth about humans is that we make many mistakes--at least I do. I wanted to enjoy that imperfection.

Sol and Connie's good qualities come through strongly, on the other hand, I think because of their sibling love for each other. Sol admires Connie's strengths and Connie admires Sol's strengths, and seeing each child through the other's eyes gives us a sense of admiration too.

KN: Please tell us one way your published book is different from an earlier draft.

KM: Everything, in a way, changed from early drafts to late drafts--I am very big on revision--although the core elements of the story never changed. One example of a change is the witch's journal entries. I had a lot of journal entries written; which ones to choose was the question. If you look very carefully and read the entries in the final book, you'll see there's a little story arc of its own in the entries. That, I thought, was how the journal entries should truly read.

KN: Forgiveness is a theme in the book yet the protagonist, Sol, does not forgive Connie while the antagonist, Fay Holaderry, forgives her dog. Why did you chose to have the antagonist forgive and not the protagonist?

KM: This was a very important element of the ending to me. Forgiveness is a big theme in the book, which goes along with the idea of all of us as imperfect people. One clue to what's going on is the title of the last chapter: "Old Enough to Accept Things." The witch is centuries old and has seen a lot of life, so she can forgive others their mistakes. She accepts life's ups and downs. Sol, on the other hand, is only eleven. His sister has done something very upsetting, and the book ends on the same day he finds this out. Sol is still upset and not yet ready to forgive. Sol's inability to forgive his sister her mistake, at least right away, is a sign of his own imperfection and his age. But, you know, I always thought that readers can forgive Sol for his own character flaws.

KN: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

KM: I'd just like to thank you for putting together great curriculum ideas, and to let teachers know that if they read the book with kids, I'd love to hear from them personally about the discussions. My website has a little contact link at the bottom, and also a page for teachers if you go to the "Mixed Up Files" page. I am a former afterschool director and teacher myself, and the child of teachers, so education, teachers, and schools are very important to me.

KN: Thanks for the interview!

Sunday, October 25, 2009


By: Keith McGowan
Publisher: Henry Holt
ISBN: 978-0-80508668-3


When Sol and Connie Blink move to Grand Creek, one of the first people to welcome them is an odd older woman, Fay Holaderry, and her friendly dog, Swift, who carries a very strange bone in his mouth. Sol knows a lot more than the average eleven-year-old, so when he identifies the bone as a human femur, he and Connie begin to wonder if their new neighbor is up to no good.

In a spine-tingling adventure that makes them think twice about whom they can trust, Sol and Connie discover that solving mysteries can be a dangerous game, even for skilled junior sleuths.

FORGIVENESS (Intrapersonal, Interpersonal, and Verbal/Linguistic)

Forgiveness is a theme in the book. Think about a time you forgave someone, or chose not to and how your decision affected the relationship. Or, write about a time someone forgave you or didn’t forgive you and how their decision affected the relationship.

MODERN FAIRY TALES (Verbal/Linguistic)

The Witch’s Guide to Cooking with Children is a modern retelling of Hansel and Gretel. Choose a fairy tale and set it in the modern world. Make sure your voice and setting reflect today’s world.


Illustrations from traditional fairy tales are romantic, but Yoko Tanaka’s illustrations are macabre. Choose a setting from the book, think about whether a romantic or a macabre style best suits the setting you chose, and illustrate it.

SKELETON BONES (Rhythmic/Musical and Visual/Spatial)

Pass out the lyrics to Skeleton Bones. Sing the song together, and then give each student a copy of the human skeleton to label.

Song lyrics:
Skeleton printouts:

WATER IN A GLASS (Logical/Mathematical)

Split the class into groups of three students. Give each child a glass of water. Have him mark the water level on the glass. Ask the students to predict how much the water level will rise when one ice cube is added to the water, two ice cubes, and three ice cubes. Have each student take the temperature of her water before adding the ice cubes. Give student A one ice cube, student B two ice cubes, and student C three ice cubes. Add the ice cubes, measure how much the water level rose and record the observations. Have students take the water temperature every two minutes until the ice cubes have completely melted. What was the mean temperature, the median temperature, and the temperature range of each student’s glass of water?

Book Buddies:

-Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
-Fablehaven by Brandon Mull
-The Fairy Tale Detectives (The Sisters Grimm, Book 1) by Michael Buckley and Peter Ferguson
-Twice Upon a Time: A Guide to Fractured, Altered, and Retold Folk and Fairy Tales by Catharine Bomhold and Terri Elder

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Interview with THE LION'S SHARE author, Matthew Mc Elligott

KN: Where did you come up with the idea for THE LION'S SHARE?

MM: I was having a birthday party a few years ago and we were having cake. Everyone had a piece. When we were done, there was still a big slice left over, but no one wanted to take the last piece. So someone – I don’t remember who, but it might have been me – cut it in half and took half. Someone else cut the remaining piece in half. Someone else cut that piece in half. It was really funny, and the cake kept getting smaller and smaller. I thought: there’s got to be an idea for a book in here somewhere.

KN: So halving the cake came from real life. Did your party guests proceed to offer to bake you numerous cakes, too?

MM: The idea of doubling the cakes was strictly from the book, I'm afraid. The idea was to set up a kind of symmetry between the halving and the doubling in the story.

(I really wish everyone had volunteered to make more cake. I love cake.)

KN: How long did it take you to write the first draft?

MM: It's tough to say. Since I illustrate my books too, I'm often tweaking the text as I'm working on the illustrations. The first finished draft - the one I submitted to the publisher - took a couple months and many, many rewrites.

KN: Describe your revision process.

MM: I write a draft, get away from it for a day or so, give it another look and realize it stinks. I repeat this for a few weeks. Finally, when I feel like it's not too bad, I show it to some trusted friends and get their feedback. They always notice gaps and inconsistencies that I missed, so I go back and do some more drafts, then show it around again.

When it finally hits a point that I'm satisfied, and my friends are too, then I'll send it in to my publisher. If they like it, there are always more revisions that they'd like to see, and I rewrite the text a few times more.

KN: Why did you choose an ant to be the heroine?

MM: Mostly because of her size. She's the end of the line. The animals start with the largest (the elephant) and get smaller as each slice of cake gets smaller. What I really wanted was for each animal to be about half the size of the one before, but that just wasn’t possible in each case.

KN: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

MM: I have lots more information about how I wrote and illustrated the book on my website, and I encourage you all to stop by and check it out. I have some sample projects, an explanation of the math behind the book and how it affected the design, demonstrations of how I drew the pictures, and lots more.
It’s all at Hope to see you there!

KN: Thanks Matt!

Sunday, October 18, 2009


By Matthew McElligott
Publisher: Walker & Company New York
ISBN-13: 978-0-8027-9768-1

FROM THE FLAP: When a very small ant is invited to the lion’s dinner party, she knows to be on her best behavior. It’s truly an honor to dine with the king of the jungle.

But the other partygoers don’t share her good manners. The greedy guests gobble up dessert, leaving nothing but a crumb for the ant to share with her king. Baking another cake seems like the perfect way to make it up to him… until the other boastful guests turn her kind gesture into a contest.

Exactly how many cakes are fit for a king?

ANIMAL SEQUENCE: (Bodily/Kinesthetic, Verbal/Linguistic, and Logical/Mathematical)

Have students wear their character masks. Ask students to recall the order in which the animals arrived at the party and have them order themselves accordingly in front of the board. Ask them if they notice a pattern? Then ask the animals to rearrange themselves as to who received the biggest piece of cake? Is there a size pattern? Once again ask them to rearrange themselves in the order they promised to bake cakes for the king? Is there a pattern? Give the students a long piece of paper divided into nine parts. Have them draw the animals in sequence and write a sentence about each animal and their actions.

CHARACTER MASKS: (Visual/Spatial)

Have each student make an animal mask using a paper plate, paints, yarn, and other supplies. Make sure to have at least two of each animal.

CLASSROOM RECIPES: (Intrapersonal and Interpersonal)

Have students bring in a copy of their favorite recipe from home. In class, ask them to write on the bottom of the recipe, and explain why this recipe is meaningful to them. Make copies of the classroom recipes for each student.

LION’S SHARE READERS’ THEATER: (Interpersonal and Bodily/Kinesthetic)

Since there are ten different characters in this book, it is a wonderful Reader’s Theater resource. Students will use their animal masks, and reenact the story.

THE ELEPHANT’S SHARE: (Logical/Mathematical)

Give each student sixteen index cards. Have her write each fraction from the book on two different cards using a marker. Then ask students to shuffle their cards and pair the students up with a partner who wrote his cards in a different color. Ask them to flip over their fraction cards one-by-one. Whoever has the largest fraction takes both cards. Students may refer to the book to figure out which fraction is larger if they forget. Partners keep playing until one person has won all of the cards. Afterwards, sort the cards out by color and find another partner.


Sing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” in rounds. Here’s a link to the lyrics:

Book Buddies:

-African Acrostics: A Word in Edgeways by Avis Harley and Deborah Noyes
-Bean Thirteen by Matthew McElligott
-Honey… Honey… Lion! by Jan Brett
-The Doorbell Rang by Pat Hutchins
-The Last Leopard by Lauren St. John
-The Lion & the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Interview with FOOTPRINTS IN THE SNOW Author, Mei Matsuoka

KN: How did you come up with the idea for FOOTPRINTS IN THE SNOW?

MM: I really enjoy Philosophy and actually spent a short time studying it in London after University. “Sophie’s World” is one of my favorite books and the questions it poses about the existence of a certain reality really interests me. That was where the idea of a ‘Story-within-a-story’ came from. Footprints are also something that has always fascinated me. As a child, I would always instinctively want to follow them, to see where it might lead me, what I might find. It has that magical quality of something that is a subtle indication of what was there before, but is also ephemeral. It has layers of metaphorical meanings and was a great tool for telling my story about Mr. Wolf, common misconceptions (stereotypes) and how things may not always be so black and white in this world.

KN: How long did it take you to write the first draft?

MM: Writing the first draft was quite quick. Once I have a story I want to tell in my head, it is just a matter of getting it down on paper.

KN: Describe your revision process.

MM: The revision of the second, third and fourth drafts were a much longer process, which came about from getting too much feedback from outside parties. I think the problem was that once I changed a small detail, everything else had to be changed. There was a lot of re-adapting and the more I changed it, the less happy I was with the finished product. In the end, we went back to the original first draft. But I think the process of having gone through the changes was an important one and made me realize the strength of the original text.

KN: Why did you decide to feature an unreliable narrator?

MM: Is he an unreliable narrator? I had never thought of it that way… Maybe slightly confused, but then aren’t we all? We are forever changing our minds on the spot, not knowing who or what we really are, often getting guided by our impulses and instincts. I wanted to show that Wolf wasn’t necessarily in control of what was happening, even when he thought he was. Nothing is ever as straight forward as ‘This is this and that is that’ and I think that it’s good to show that in children’s books as well.

KN: Do people contact you to tell you what they think really happens when Mr. Wolf follows the footprints?

MM: I have heard various responses regarding what might happen to Wolf after he follows the footprints (I often like to ask!) Many children say that he’ll find the duck and eat him and just as many say that he will become friends with the duck after all. Some have said that he won’t find the duck, give up, go back home and have a cup of tea! I’m yet to hear a really unusual answer, but that is always the exciting thing about the story, to see what each person’s take on it is. I always hope that as many people as possible pick up on the subtle details. Such as the pens and paws that are ‘writing’ the ‘story’ pages and also the animal toys in the backgrounds of the ‘reality’ pages. Thank you for reading the book and this interview. Please contact me at I’d love to hear your take on what happens after Wolf follows the footprints!

KN: Thanks for the interview, Mei!

Sunday, October 11, 2009


By Mei Matsuoka
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
ISBN:-13: 978-0-8050-8792-5

FROM THE FLAP: Wolf is feeling offended and indignant: all the wolves he’s ever read about are nasty, scary, and greedy! To set the record straight, he decided to write a story about a nice wolf. But will his wolfish instincts get the better of him after all?

EXCELLENT ENDINGS (Verbal/Linguistic)

Ask students to write an ending to FOOTPRINTS IN THE SNOW from the wolf’s point of view and another ending from one of the other animal’s points of view. If students are emerging writers, have them illustrate their ending and have them dictate the story to you.


Have students mount their stories from Excellent Endings onto white construction paper. Then have them stamp a border of footprints around their stories. If you don’t have stamps, use potato prints.

FOOTPRINT SCAVENGER HUNT (Bodily/Kinesthetic and Logical/Mathematical)

Photocopy six different sets of footprints. You’ll need about twenty of each kind. Place the footprints throughout the room or school. Divide students into teams of three or four and have them follow their animal footprints. Every five footprints or so, right a clue on the footprint about the size of the animal, whether it’s prey or predator, habitat, and size. At the end of the footprints, children will find a photo of the animal. Challenge students to identify their animal before they find the photo. Go to for drawings of various mammal footprints and useful information about their habitats and diets.


Talk about each animal in the story and about its diet. Create addition and subtraction problems such as: Five flies flew around frog’s head. Frog ate two. How many flies were left? Or, rabbit ate three carrots from one garden and five from another. How many carrots did rabbit eat all together? After doing many as a class, ask students to create their own math stories.

STEPS TO FRIENDSHIP (Interpersonal and Intrapersonal)

Wolf sets out to make friends, but he is unsuccessful. As a class brainstorm a list of things to say to someone when trying to initiate a friendship. The other animals weren’t friendly to wolf either. Brainstorm a list of friendly responses children can say when someone approaches them and asks to be friends. Ask students to trace their footprint, cut it out, and sign their name on their footprint. Post the prints around the room.


-My Lucky Day by Keiko Kasza
-The Spider and the Fly by Mary Howitt and Tony DiTerlizzi
-The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka
-Wolves by Emily Gravett

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Interview with THE WORRY TREE Author, Marianne Musgrove

KN: Where did you come up with the idea for THE WORRY TREE?

MM: I had a whole cast of characters loosely based on my family (although my mum would like it known she never did the thing with the spaghetti Bolognese). Unfortunately, there was nothing holding the story together. Since the main character is a worrywart, I thought it would be great to give her a way of managing her worries. I was flicking through an interior design magazine one day and I saw a photo of a child's bedroom with a tree painted on the wall and animals in its branches, and so the Worry Tree was born.

KN: The vivid characters make this book a joy to read. What techniques did you use to make your characters jump off the page?

MM: I always choose a specific detail that I repeat throughout the story to remind people of who the character is, eg, Juliet has a nervous rash and a little anxious 'v' that appears between her eyebrows. This gives the reader a visual picture and also says something about the character (in this case, that she's a worrywart).

I make sure each character has a different sense of humour as this reflects the way they look at the world and distinguishes them from each other, eg, Oaf is mischievous, Nana is dry and Dad is outlandish.

KN: Above you say Juliet is a worrywart, yet she is a very attractive main character. What character traits did you include to make sure Juliet comes across as a fun person? One detail I love is the fact that she compares her initials JJJ to monkey tails, fish hooks, and umbrella handles.

MM: I spent a long time imagining I was Juliet, and then I put her in situations to see how she'd react. As she revealed herself to me, her quirky nature really stood out, eg, her obsession with her collection of used bus tickets, her book containing the number plates of anyone who'd parked in the street. She has a strong sense of justice, something children tend to relate to, and she is very caring, always worrying about other people and how she can help them. I tried to create a character readers would barrack for. Juliet finds herself in many an unjust situation but she always acts nobly and, in the end, her strength of character sees her through.

KN: How long did it take you to write the first draft of THE WORRY TREE?

MM: About a year. I had no experience of writing a novel (apart from the romantic thriller I penned, age eleven). I wrote the entire thing long hand with random scenes spread all over my bedroom floor. Over time, I shuffled them into some kind of order.

KN: Please describe your revision process for THE WORRY TREE.

MM: Ah, revision, how I loathe it, and yet it's so necessary. I wrote nineteen drafts of "The Worry Tree". I like to put my manuscript in the drawer for a couple of months. It's loosens my emotional attachment to the words so I can edit more dispassionately. Then I do a series of very specific edits, eg, I read through, paying attention to the arc of a particular character's journey or I read through only looking for typos or to make sure the continuity of the story holds true.

KN: What other books have you written that WORRY TREE readers might enjoy?

"Don't Breathe a Word" (Random House Australia) has just come out. It's a funny, realistic story about two sisters who live with their grandpa who's been acting rather strangely (he has dementia). They're afraid they'll be split up if anyone finds out so they have to keep it a secret.

"Lucy the Good" (Random House Australia) is the first in a series of books about a girl who spends an awful lot of time in the Time Out chair, though she's always surprised when it happens. Each Lucy book explores an ethical issue with much humour. The first is about what it means to be good. Next year's "Lucy the Lie Detector" will explore truth, lies, rules and the law (according to Lucy).

KN: Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?

MM: To download a free copy of the Worry Tree poster, you can check out my website at

KN: Thank you for joining us.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


By Marianne Musgrove
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
ISBN-13: 978-0-8050-8791-8

FROM THE FLAP: Juliet’s a worrywart, and no wonder! Her little sister, Oaf, follows her around taking notes and singing “The Irritating Song” all day long. Her parents are always arguing about Dad’s clutter. Nana’s so tired of craft lessons that she starts barbecuing things in the middle of the night. And Juliet’s friends, Lindsay and Gemma, are competing to see which of them is her best friend. Juliet can’t fit in any more worries!

But then she makes a remarkable discovery. Behind the wallpaper in her new bedroom, Juliet uncovers an old painting of a very special tree. Nana remembers it well: It’s the Worry Tree, and with the help of the Worry Tree animals, Juliet just might be able to solve some of life’s big problems.

A Living Forest (Bodily-Kinesthetic)

Have students pretend they’re trees. First they crouch as if they’re seeds. Have them unfurl their bodies as the sun shines and the rain falls. Once they’ve reached their full grown height, remind them to keep their roots anchored and have their branches stretch toward the sun. Have a storm come and tell students that even though their branches might sway, their trunks stay balanced and centered no matter what the conditions around them.

Collection Classification (Naturalist and Logical-Mathematical)

Ask students to bring in a collection from home. As individuals, have students classify their collections by an attribute such as size, shape, or color. As a class, classify and sort the collections by attributes. Graph the results.

Fly Away Worries (Intrapersonal, Visual-Spatial, Verbal-Linguistic, and Interpersonal)

Give students a piece of origami paper. Have them write a worry on the white side of the paper. Then, using the directions from, instruct them how to fold their worry into a bird, or another animal mentioned in the book. Have the students pin their worry to the tree. At the end of the day, the teacher can pick one worry off the tree and read it out loud making sure to leave out any names or other identifying information. The class can brainstorm ways they’ve overcome that specific problem.

Grandparent Interviews (Verbal-Linguistic and Interpersonal)

In class ask students to write ten interview questions for their grandparents or another older family relative or acquaintance. The students’ questions should center their grandparents’ childhoods. Ask students to invite their grandparents to the classroom or bring in a photo of their relative and present their findings to the class.

Extensions: Write a creative story about your grandparents’ favorite toy.
Write a see-saw book comparing and contrasting your childhood to your grandparents’ childhood.

The Worry Tree (Visual-Spatial)

The teacher affixes a large trunk with six branches to a bulletin board in the classroom. Ask students to dip one of their palms into a tray of green paint, and make a hand print onto the classroom worry tree. Now the tree is leafy and ready to receive the classroom’s origami worries.

Book Buddies:

Clementine by Sara Pennypacker
Dessert First by Hallie Durand
Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows
Piper Reed, Navy Brat by Kimberly Willis Holt
Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Interview with WHY ARE ANIMALS BLUE author, Melissa Stewart

KN: How did you come up with the idea for the series RAINBOW OF ANIMALS?

MS: This series started with a question from my editor: Did I think we could do an interesting group of books about animal colors? I did some research and discovered that an animal’s color is often critical to its survival.

Golden monkeys live in dense mountain forests. If they didn’t have blue faces, they’d have trouble spotting one another. A monarch butterfly’s bright orange wings warn enemies that they are poisonous. I couldn’t believe all the interesting color-related stories I found. I knew we could create some great books for kids.

At first, we were calling the series Colors in Nature. I was researching all kinds of colors, including black, white, pink, and brown. Then, during a brainstorming phone call, either my editor or I (we can’t remember who) blurted out “Animals of the Rainbow.” We both liked it, but the idea of writing a whole book about purple animals made me nervous. Were there enough good examples? Could we find photos? I did some research and found out that there are more purple animals than you might think—especially in the ocean. So we settled on six books, one for each color of the rainbow. Over time, the series name switched to Rainbow of Animals.

I was originally thinking of writing books for grades 2-4, but my editor wanted to go younger. So we did. To make books that would appeal to early readers, I knew the text would need to be simple and fascinating.

I decided to start off by inviting readers to look at the colors of animals in their immediate surroundings. Then I shared fascinating animal stories from around the world. The book ends with a game in which children use what they have just learned to guess how two animals depend on their coloring. Finally, a page maps of shows where each of the animals discussed in the book lives. This structure took a while to work out and involved a lot of collaborative discussions with my editor.

Once we both felt great about the concept, she took my proposal to the acquisitions committee, and it was approved. Then it was time to really get to work.

KN: Describe your research process for this set of books.

MS: For most of the books I write, I submit the text and the publisher takes care of the photos. But for this series, the photos had to be the starting point. So I did the photo research myself, looking for images that were beautiful, fit the books’ format, and showed animals with interesting color-related stories.

I did the photo research and the informational research simultaneously, back and forth, back and forth. I gathered some great stories. Then I looked for images. Sometimes I found great images, and then looked to see how the animal depended on its coloring. I needed both—a great image and a great story. Sometimes I found matches, and sometimes I didn’t. I kept up this process until I had enough examples for each book.

KN: Which book in the series did you write first, and how long did it take you to write it? After completing the first book, was it easier to write the rest of the book in the series?

MS: I may sound crazy, but I wrote all the books at the same time. I often write several books simultaneously when I’m trying to maintain a particular voice and style and reading level. Around this time, I was also working on a series called Gross & Goofy Body. It has a very different voice and it’s for older kids, so I had to immerse myself in one project or the other for chunks of time.

Because I’m usually working on several projects at once and I have to juggle writing and researching with things like marketing and preparing for school visits and developing new ideas, I can never really say how long it takes to write a particular book. (People ask me that question all the time.) I work on things a little at a time over a period of months or even years.

I think I finished Why Are Animals Red? first. Thanks to Kodachrome 64 film (a popular professional-quality film that tends to bring out reds), there were lots of great images to choose from. I know I finished Why Are Animals Purple? last because I really wanted to include the purple heron, but I just couldn’t find a good image in a horizontal format. In the end, the clever designer saved the day. He found a way to make a vertical image work in the layout. Making books really is a very collaborative process.

KN: You've spent lots of time outside, and you've traveled to many different places. Have you seen any of the animals in these books in person? If so, please tell us about your encounters.

MS: Wow, that’s a great question. I knew before I even started Why Are Animals Blue? that I wanted to include the blue darner dragonfly, an insect that’s very common in New England and that fascinated me when I was a child. My grandfather told me s story about it sewing together the mouths of children who talked too much or told lies. Of course, I knew the story wasn’t true, but their long, needle-like abdomens intrigued me nonetheless.

I also knew I had to include the blue-footed boobie, an adorable bird I saw when I was in the Galapagos Islands. At mating time, the males woo the ladies with their fancy footwork. Imagine two bright blue feet as they strut, stomp, shuffle, and slide over the rocky ground. Those birds really put on quite a show!

KN: Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?

MS: If anyone would like to learn more about me or my books, I hope they will take a look at my website: I also started a blog recently. Celebrate Science includes all kinds of fun activities that you can do with kids as well as tips for writing nonfiction.

Thanks so much for interviewing me, Kate. It’s been a lot of fun.

You’re welcome, Melissa. It’s been fun for me, too.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Why Are Animals Blue?

By Melissa Stewart

Publisher: Enslow

ISBN-13: 978-0-7660-3251-4

FROM THE BACK COVER: “Discover a rainbow of animals. Animals come in all colors of the rainbow. Learn the fascinating reasons why animals are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple in the RAINBOW OF ANIMALS easy-to-read Science books. Find out about animals with blue faces, blue feet, and blue tongues in this fascinating book. Kids will be mesmerized by the quality color photos and intriguing facts in this easy-to-read title.”

A Rainbow of Animals Habitat Walk (Naturalist)

Take students to a local habitat and ask them to search for a “Rainbow of Animals.” Have them draw pictures of the animals they see. Back in the class, determine whether or not students were able to find a complete “Rainbow of Animals.

Animal Movement (Bodily Kinesthetic)

Lead the students through the various actions of the animals in the book: swimming, hopping, flying, dancing, snapping and flicking. Ask students to correlate each movement with the appropriate animal.

Attraction, Camouflage, or Warning Graph (Logical-Mathematical)

Stewart teaches students that animals are blue for three different reasons: 1) To blend in, 2) To attract a mate; and, 3) To scare away predators. As a class, go through each animal in the book and determine if the animal uses blue to attract a mate, scare away a predator, or to hide. Make a bar graph of the results. Are there more animals in one category? Why?

Guess Who? (Verbal-Linguistic)

Brainstorm a list of animals from the book. Ask a student to pick an animal from the book. Then, the other students can ask questions to try and guess which animal the student chose. Students should ask questions about habitat, how the animal uses its color for its benefit, and what animals are the prey and predator of the chosen animal.

Wax Resist Watercolors (Visual-Spatial)

The blue shark’s color helps it stay hidden from its predators in the water. Have students draw a picture of a blue shark using crayon. Then ask students to use blue watercolors and paint over their drawing. Since wax resist the watercolors, students do not need to worry about painting over their work.

Book Buddies:

-Animal Camouflage in the Ocean by Martha Rustad

-Predators and Prey by Marcia Freeman

-Swimmy by Leo Lionni

-What Color is Camouflage by Carolyn Otto

-Why Are Animals Orange? by Melissa Stewart

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Interview with FINEST KIND Author, Lea Wait

KN: You did a tremendous amount of research to create a historically accurate novel. Did you know Jake's story before you began researching, or did the concept for FINEST KIND develop as a result of 19th century research?

LW: Writing a book is like putting together a large puzzle. The challenge is to invent all the pieces (time, place, personalities, weather, events) -- and then fit them together. A lot of my research ends up on the floor! In writing Finest Kind I started with an historical event: in 1838 the Wiscasset Jail burned, and students saved the prisoners. I added a theme: a family with a secret. Many of the characters in the book (everyone at the jail, Dr. Theobold, etc) are actual people, so their stories are factual. The stories of the fictional characters I wove into the world of Wiscasset, Maine in 1838. I do 95% of my research, and perhaps 85% of my planning, before I start writing.

KN: Describe how you created genuine 19th century voices for your characters.

LW: Because my research is based in primary sources, I'm comfortable with reading and reflecting the voices of my 19th century characters. I also check every noun and verb I use in a dictionary published in the region and time of the book I'm writing to make sure I'm using words accurately for the period. For example, in Maine in 1838 people would have used a "privy" -- not an "outhouse" (that word would be used later in the 19th century) or a "necessary" (a word used in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.)

KN: What is a primary source and which ones did you use to write FINEST KIND?

LW: Primary sources (research sources that were written at the time you're studying) I used in writing Finest Kind included diaries, newspapers from 1837 and 1838, prisoner records kept by the Lincoln County jailer, letters, court records, genealogical notes, and then local church and town histories written later in the 19th century. I've now developed my own library of materials (I have whole shelves of books on farm implements, clothing, names, laws, educational practices, etc.) I also work in local town archives, and at the Maine Historical Society. By the way, when I do school visits -- whether in Maine or in, say, Missouri, where Finest Kind was on their Mark Twain Award list last year and I visited 12 schools -- I take some of those materials with me, including text books from the period for the students to look at, and I talk about how Noah Webster changed the American language, and what it was like to go to school in the 19th century. A lot of children today have never seen, much less touched, a book from 1820, so that gives them a very special experience.

KN: How long did it take you to write the first draft of FINEST KIND?

LW: Because of a tough juxtaposition of personal issues and publishing deadlines, I wrote Finest Kind faster than any other book I've written -- before or since! I'd finished the research, but went from writing the synopsis Thankgiving week (we ate dinner out!) to submitting the manuscript the first week in February. I don't even remember Christmas that year! Of course, there was more editing after that!

KN: Describe your revision process.

LW: I revise as I write; every day I revise what I've written the day before and then write whatever number of new pages I've assigned myself -- usually about 10. If I write something that changes an earlier event, I go back and fix that immediately. So my final editing is more tweaking than anything else: eliminating unnecessary words or scenes; using stronger words; ensuring transitions work. I edit the manuscript at least once in hard copy and read it out loud at least once. I'm always trying to improve the language and flow.

KN: Tell us about other books you have written that FINEST KIND readers might enjoy.

LW: I've had three other historicals published also set in Wiscasset. STOPPING TO HOME, set in 1806, stars 11-year-old Abbie and her 4-year-old brother Seth, orphaned by smallpox and the sea, who go to work for 18-year-old Widow Chase. Together, they must find a way to support themselves in the small seaport village.

SEAWARD BORN begins in Charleston, South Carolina, where 12-year-old Michael Lautrec is a slave who works in Charleston Harbor. But after his mistress dies, his world changes, and he makes the dangerous decision to try to reach freedom in the north via sea. Eventually he does -- and meets Abbie and Seth in Wiscasset. SEAWARD BORN takes place in 1804-1807.

And Dr. Theobold, who is in FINEST KIND, is also in WINTERING WELL, set in 1819-1820. Perhaps my most popular book so far, WINTERING WELL is told from the perspectives of both a brother who loses his leg in a farm accident and the sister who vows to take care of him. Of course, brothers and sisters don't see the world in the same way! In the year Maine became a state, both Will and Cassie also gain new perspectives on their lives, and new goals for their futures.

KN: Is there anything else you would like to share?

LW: I also write contemporary mysteries for adults, starring Maggie Summer, an antique print dealer and community college professor who solves crimes. The Shadows Antique Print Mystery series has been fun to write as a break from my historicals for children! Anyone interested in more information about my books, or in teachers' guides for my books for children, should check out my website, I'm also newly on Facebook, where I post about books, writing, and living in Maine, and would be happy to have anyone interested join me there!